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Can VR save the mall?

by Beth Divine 18 Jan 2019

Big business – as in businesses that have traditionally flourished with huge floor space and enormous stores bursting with hundreds of stock options – is on the decline. Online shopping offers more stock choices than ever the biggest store, and people can shop without ever leaving the comfort of their armchair, choosing from every possible colour, size, type of product without ever getting sore feet from walking for miles, or sore hands from carrying around the successful purchases, or a sore back from the physical exertion of shopping…

This phenomenon is well established, especially in America which was the former home of the magnificent mall: huge clean wide spaces filled with flagship stores, cinemas, food courts, shops of all sorts. Mall after mall has closed down, flagship stores moving away, massively downsizing, or going into insolvency, to the dismay of the investors and the people who rely on the nearby malls for employment for their area.

What is the solution to this distressing decline in suburbanity? Is it possible that the relatively new virtual reality industry could hold the solution? Movie industry fat cats are looking into investing into the fledgling technology and they have realised that virtual reality’s big promise is the ability to immerse the viewer completely in the virtual reality experience. Therefore, any technological inventions that can enhance this will be leapt upon. At present, cinema theatres are looking into hardware – chairs, headsets, footplates that can move, tilt, or vibrate: and that are studded with sensors that can change their texture, temperature and even exude smells to make the virtual reality user’s experience of being in the imaginary environment more authentic for them.

The installation of small cinemas that offer full body immersive offerings could well be the saving of many a borderline mall. As retail goes small – tiny physical footprint with a big online reach is the way for retail, it seems – space in malls is becoming available. The installation of virtual reality cinemas in the place of huge flagship stores might just be what malls of the future need.